06 Feb 2013

Steve’s Spotlight: Forest North

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Let’s turn the old spotlight north this time — onto a nice little chunk of Northwest Austin known as Forest North.

The homes here are what we call “established” (as opposed to “brand spanking new”), and typically sell in the $150,000 to $270,000 range. One of the features that makes this area more affordable is the fact that many homes use septic systems instead of running on the city sewer lines, freeing those residents from the additional tax burden of city sewer service. Residents enjoy plentiful shopping at Round Rock Outlet Mall and Lakeline Mall, with similarly easy access to the fashionable Domain and ever-popular Arboretum. Major nearby arteries include Highways 45 and 183, helping to make the commute to work or school a breeze. And speaking of school, the kids are served by McNeil High School, Deerpark Middle School and Forest North Elementary School. All in all, a great place to settle down in a nice little house and raise a family.

Where does Steve’s Plumbing Repair enter the picture? Well, we provide service throughout the Austin area, and we’re happy to help North Forest residents as well. Many of the older homes in this neighborhood may benefit from a careful sewer line inspection or some adjustments to the water pressure. Older appliances may be consuming more water or energy than strictly necessary, in which case we can recommend and install more energy-efficient models for future savings. What about the homes that use septic tanks? Well, they obviously won’t need a sewer line inspection, since they’re not using the city sewer lines. But tank or no tank, we’re always the guys to call if you have a clogged sink, toilet or tub, or if you need any the modifications mentioned above. Don’t be shy — call us!

31 Jan 2013

Essential DIY Plumbing Tools

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Does every plumbing problem automatically require you to call our team at Steve’s Plumbing Repair? Absolutely not! But before you take the DIY approach to any current or future plumbing job, make sure you’ve stocked up on some essential tools of the trade:

Plungers – They’re cheap, you can pick them up at your neighborhood grocery store or home improvement shop, and they can unclog a drain without any need for corrosive chemicals or adjustment to the pipe. But make sure you get the kind with the flange or reverse-bell shape on the end; they do a much better job of getting an airtight seal over the drain opening.

Augers – There are two basic kinds, the heavy-duty “plumber’s snake” and the somewhat smaller closet auger or “toilet snake.” What’s a toilet snake? Picture one of those little fuzzy pipe cleaners, only on steroids. This bad boy is made of steel cable and is tailor-made for unblocking toilets after the plunger has given up in defeat. The even-larger plumber’s snake can extend up to 25 feet and operates by crank, allowing you to send it deep into all kinds of pipes.

Pliers – Your trusty pliers can be your best friend in a simple plumbing fix. You can use them to pull gunk out of a drain, twist or turn a component, grab onto something and hold it in place, or do a spot of routine tightening or loosening.

Wrenches – If you need to manipulate nuts or even entire pipes, then you’ll need a few different wrench types and sizes. A basin wrench reaches down into faucet components to tighten or loosen the nuts inside, while plumber’s wrenches help you manipulate threaded pipes and nuts.

Or if you don’t feel like buying all this stuff — just contact us!

30 Jan 2013

Prep Your Toilet Bowl for the Superbowl

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Here it comes! Of course I’m talking about Superbowl XLVII, live from the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans. Except for those who are actually flying out to see the big game in person, most football fans will be watching in bars, restaurants, and of course in massive neighborhood viewing parties coast to coast. Maybe you’re even hosting one of these big shindigs yourself. So while you’re buying refreshments, dusting off the sofa cushions and making that last-minute purchase of a big-screen TV, ask yourself: Is your toilet ready to play all four quarters?

We’ve talked about the importance of prepping your plumbing system before a big stay-over event like a family holiday, but even a simple party can be affected by misbehaving fixtures or devices. Obviously this goes for your toilet as well, especially at any event where large quantities of beer may be served. This would absolutely be wrong time for a tree root to break through your sewer line or the wax ring underneath the toilet bowl to lose its seal on the floor. And I don’t need to tell you how distracting an overflow situation can be in the middle of a tense two-minute drill. By the time you’ve mopped up and calmed the children, guess what? You missed the final gun!

Obviously you’d rather keep something like this from going wrong than have to go into scramble mode. Sure, Steve’s Plumbing Repair is happy to come out and deal with the emergency — but preventative maintenance can make your Superbowl party a lot happier. So if there’s still time, contact us for an inspection. It could be a real game saver!

21 Jan 2013

Steve’s Spotlight: East Austin

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In past articles we’ve thrown the ol’ spotlight on a variety of historic neighborhoods. This time we’re looking at East Austin — a lively, funky blend of old and new, historic and modern, and an increasingly attractive prospect for Austinites and wanna-be Austinites alike.

What do we mean when we say “East Austin?” Generally speaking, its western border is I-35, and it stretches from Manor Road southward to Lady Bird Lake, with the city limits forming the eastern border. It’s a paradise for lovers of neighborhood food and drink, with a variety of cafes and restaurants dotting the East 11th Street and Manor Road areas. You’ll find the arts alive and well here — Rude Mechanicals and Salvage Vanguard Theater are just two of the performing arts groups that entertain and enlighten the locals. And if you get tired of those, you’re still super-close to everything UT and downtown Austin have to offer, and you’re just a short drive away from the airport.

What about the homes? Redevelopment is the name of the game right now. East Austin contains an eclectic mix of vintage homes (mostly near the lake), renovated family homes and hip, artsy condos, bungalows and lofts. If you seek a modern planned community, the Mueller development near the airport offers that suburban feel.

We’re biased, of course, but we urge anyone moving into such a dynamic community as East Austin to pay special attention to the plumbing in their prospective house, loft or condo. Newer ventures and restored properties should be up to code and have nice new fixtures and pipes, but the older the property is, the greater the possibility that the plumbing could use some upgrades. Now’s the time to look into it, not after you’ve closed the deal and moved in. Contact us — we can help!

15 Jan 2013

Copper Pipe Pros and Cons

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In a previous article we talked about Orangeburg pipe, an old, flimsy material that still haunts the sewer lines of historic Austin homes. So maybe it’s time for you to replace your pipes with something nice and sturdy and reliable. So what do you choose? PVC seems to be all the rage these days, but what about these copper pipes you’ve also heard about?

Well, copper is certainly a time-tested option. It has shown itself to be an extremely reliable and reliable material for use in copperpipes, with an estimated trouble-free lifespan of 50 years. Like PVC (and unlike Orangeburg), it resists tree roots. It’s fire resistant, holds up to natural disasters and doesn’t host bacteria. It’s also good for when we need to slide a narrow pipe into a narrow space, and you can bend it like crazy to get it to conform to almost any plan.

But no material is perfect, and copper is no exception to the rule. For one thing, it’s kind of pricey, which is the main reason a lot of people go with the equally reliable but more affordable PVC pipes. Part of the price difference stems from the fact that it’s just more labor intensive to install. And despite its reputation for reliability, acidic water can work on the metal until tiny leaks eventually form. If you have sensitive taste buds, you might even taste a little coppery something in your water, though you could probably filter the copper out with an ordinary carbon filter pitcher or faucet attachment.

Still not sure about which material will make the best plumbing pipes for your needs? Contact Steve’s Plumbing Repair. We’ll be happy to offer our expert advice so you end up with pipes that suit your budget and home layout.

02 Jan 2013

The Trouble with Orangeburg Pipe

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What’s the flimsiest substance you can imagine making a pipe out of? Paper, right? But believe it or not, a substance not at all unlike paper went into countless water and sewer pipes for decades — decades longer than it was designed to hold up. It’s called Orangeburg pipe, and guess what? If you own an older home or live in a historic neighborhood, your plumbing system may still be using it.

Orangeburg pipe is made of bituminized fiber, meaning that it’s basically wood pulp formed into tubes and waterproofed with pitch. It’s named after Orangeburg, New York, the city where countless tons of it was produced for commercial electrical and wastewater conduit. By the 1940s everybody knew that Orangeburg could easily rupture under pressure, but the postwar housing boom and the need for cheap building materials made a toughened-up version of pipe extremely popular in neighborhoods across the U.S. If your home was built in the 1970s or earlier, there’s a decent chance its water is running through Orangeburg pipe.

And that’s a problem. Orangeburg pipe was never rated for more than 50 years’ maximum use, and it usually starts to fail a lot earlier than that. Worst of all, it’s susceptible to tree roots, which can burrow right into the pipe walls, blocking water movement and and causing everything from pinhole leaks to full-scale burst pipes. The construction industry gave up on Orangeburg in the 1970s and too unreliable and started replacing with PVC, which is tough, long-lasting and impervious to tree roots.

If you’re less than 100 percent sure about your pipes and sewer lines, call Steve’s Plumbing Repair. We can inspect the pipes and replace any old Orangeburg junk with good quality PVC. Let’s stop those leaks before they start!

28 Dec 2012

Water Pressure Problems

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If your shower has turned into a dribble or your kitchen faucet seems unwilling to give you the volume of water you’ve asked it for, you may have hit a low point — low in terms of water pressure, that is. Let’s look some of the potential causes:

Outdoor shutoff valves – It’s always possible that one or more of the outdoor shutoff valves that control the flow of water into your home may have gotten partly or totally closed. Check each valve, adjusting as necessary. If you can get at the ones on your water meter, make sure you check them too.

Indoor main shutoff valve – Have you always been unhappy with your home’s water pressure? You may have been suffering with a semi-closed or malfunctioning indoor main shutoff valve since the day you moved in. Stranger things have happened. If it’ll open further, open it!

Faulty water meter – A water meter is a piece of equipment, and any equipment can malfunction over time. Unfortunately, you probably can’t deal with this situation yourself, nor does the city want you to; you’ll have to call in a plumbing inspector to check it out.

Pipe failure – Water may be leaking out of the sewer lines and seeping into the surrounding earth, robbing you of water pressure and jacking up your monthly water bill. Or a leaky pipe inside your walls may be rotting the wooden beams in your home and hosting toxic mold, termites and other nasty stuff.

Need help flushing out the cause of your low water pressure? Steve’s Plumbing Repair is ready to come to your rescue. We can check the water main and shutoff valves, inspect the pipes, and make any repairs or adjustments. And before you know it — the pressure’s on!

29 Nov 2012

Got Wood Rot? Could Be a Plumbing Problem

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If your home has wooden components in it, make sure you don’t have any little plumbing problems dampening that wood, or you may be in for a really rotten time.

Mold, of course, loves water, and it’ll destroy the wood in your home as well. The infamous “black mold” can destroy your health even while it’s destroying your home. And every homeowner dreads seeing the words “dry rot” on a home inspector’s report. By the way, don’t let the name fool you; dry rot requires wet wood, not just wood, to do its dirty work. Wood affected by dry rot may become weak enough to collapse even before you can see a problem.

Pests commit their share of wood rot crimes as well. The dampwood termite is a great example. These termites don’t care about dry wood — they zero in on the wet stuff, especially if there’s a constant leak keeping it wet all the time. Dampwood termites mostly inhabit the West Coast, but they attack homes in the Southwest too. Another wood destroyer that thrives on a damp environment is the carpenter ant. These ants tend to gather any source of moisture in your home, including plumbing leaks. If you let a full-sized colony develop around your leaky pipes or fixtures, you may see significant wood damage over time.

The answer to all these problems is pretty obvious — don’t let the wood in or around your home stay damp! Plumbing leaks may go unnoticed for years until one day you realize that the wood in your home has rotted away. Don’t wait until you have to make substantial home renovations; call Steve’s Plumbing Repair and let us conduct a thorough inspection of your plumbing system. Fixing a small leak now could prevent big (and expensive) problems later!

29 Oct 2012

Does Your Plumbing Make You Thankful (or Not)?

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Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all the good things we have in our lives. Is your plumbing one of those good things — or has it given you little reason for gratitude lately?

One of the things we’re always thankful for is the fact that we have enough food. And on Thanksgiving Day, it’s usually way more than enough. Sure, we try to be responsible about the overage — we might invite dinner guests to take some home with them, or give some to the needy, or stuff the fridge and freezer with leftovers. But there’s a limit to how many turkey sandwiches anybody can eat, so ultimately a good deal of that bounty goes one of two places: in the trash or down the sink. Can your sink and disposal handle the remains of a Thanksgiving feast, or is it on its last legs going into the battle? Now would be an ideal time to get it checked out.

Thanksgiving is also a time to be thankful for friends and family, and we do that by gathering as many of our loved ones together as possible. You might even have relatives driving or flying in to spend the entire Thanksgiving weekend. And that’s great — unless your plumbing facilities aren’t ready for the challenge. Can your toilets be counted on to flush? Do your shower heads shower? Do your bathtubs hold their water? Don’t wait for ugly surprises; contact us for a pre-emptive inspection.

All of us here at Steve’s Plumbing Repair have something very special to be thankful for: you! Your loyalty and support have helped us grow year after year and even allowed us to move into a bigger, better space. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you and happy Thanksgiving!

29 Oct 2012

Roof Drain Problems & Solutions

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We talk about “having a roof over our head” as a great comfort, and most of the time it is. But when you start seeing water damage in your attic or even on your ceilings, you may wonder if that roof over your head is to blame. And while sometimes the roof has developed a problem, that problem may not be in the roof’s structure but in its drains. That’s right, your roof has drains on it, and those drains can experience problems just like any other drains in your home.

What’s the answer? That depends on the nature of your roof drain problem. If the drain is just clogged up with debris from years of changing weather, falling leaves, dead birds or whatnot, then all you have to do is clean them out. (No, it’s not a fun job, but it’s relatively straightforward and not likely to be necessary again for quite some time.) But in the rare event that age, corrosion or other damage has made the roof drain stop working, then you’ll need to have the drain replaced. We can eyeball the drain for you and let you know what kind of solution you’re looking at, but actual roof repairs are a job for a professional roofing contractor. You might also want to look at your roof’s warranty to see if it covers replacement of a failed roof drain.

Before you go blaming your roof drain for that spot on your ceiling, however, you should also consider the possibility of a leaky drain pipe or overflow pipe, especially if there’s a bathroom near the site of the problem. This isn’t necessarily “better,” but it is certainly fixable — and for something that’s causing ceiling damage, the sooner you get us on the phone, the better!